A few days ago the postie arrived with a PocketCHIP for me. It’s a handheld Linux computer, with a keyboard and touchscreen, designed for easy hardware and software tinkering. One of its big drawcards is that it runs PICO-8, a “fantasy console”, which has “harsh limitations” such as a 32kb limit on the size of games, and a 128×128 resolution display, but is very easy to program for. If you enjoy pulling things apart to see how they work, both PocketCHIP and PICO-8 are worth a look.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is trumpeting its latest civil case against a dodgy boss. This time it is a restaurateur who allegedly collected a chef’s parental leave payments from the Government, without passing them on to the worker.

I’m pleased that they’re taking him to court, but I’m puzzled by this detail:

Mr Singh allegedly made a false document purporting to show that he paid the parental leave funds in cash to the employee’s husband in May, 2015.

The Fair Work Ombudsman challenged the veracity of the document. …

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says employers who contravene the law and deliberately mislead investigators can expect to face legal action.

Maybe it’s the former prosecutor in me, but I can’t understand why this is only a civil law suit.

The Commonwealth Criminal Code states:

137.1 False or misleading information

  1. A person commits an offence if:
    1. the person gives information to another person; and
    2. the person does so knowing that the information:
      1. is false or misleading; or
      2. omits any matter or thing without which the information is misleading; and
    3. any of the following subparagraphs applies:
      1. the information is given to a Commonwealth entity…

Penalty: Imprisonment for 12 months.

The FWO is a Commonwealth entity, and the employer is said to have deliberately misled investigators by providing them with false documents. It seems to fit fairly neatly into s137.1.

I note that the FWO Guidance Note 1 – Litigation Policy includes the following:

Where the FWO becomes aware of offences having occurred it will, in the ordinary course of events, refer a brief to the CDPP.

I’d like to know whether the FWO referred a brief to the CDPP, and if not, what takes this case outside “the ordinary course of events”?

A quick look at some other recent FWO press releases suggests this is not a one-off. There was an accountant “allegedly creating false pay records that were used to try to cover-up the extent of the underpayments”, a retailer who allegedly provided “false records … to the Fair Work Ombudsman”, a trolley collection boss who allegedly “provided records that he knew contained false information relating to a number of employees” — and that’s just in the last month.

I would expect that crimes would be referred to the criminal prosecutors, especially when they involve allegations of forgery to mislead government investigators. You can be sure that an employee who stole $12,000 from their boss, and then used forged documents to throw the police off the scent, would be hauled into court on criminal charges.

Why don’t bosses face the same rules?

Regent University law professor James Duane tells his class: Don’t Talk to the Police. (As a former criminal prosecutor, I endorse this unreservedly.)

Malcolm Harris:

The refusal of Marxists and anarchists to plot out some unified strategy does more than reduce our numbers. The division separates us like a personality test, leaving both sides lacking in particular necessary energies. Marxists without anarchists have too much respect for law and authority, leaving them susceptible to co-optation by liberals. Anarchists without Marxists can be self-righteous about compromise and getting their hands dirty by interacting with existing power structures. Marxists without anarchists can lack flexibility and imagination, while anarchists without Marxists can lack discipline. Anarchists put on aesthetic performances that captivate and amuse the culture without convincing it, while Marxists craft airtight logical theories that are culturally irrelevant. Marxists don’t know shit about tactics and anarchists can’t strategize. Anarchists are too quick to act, Marxists too reluctant. There are plenty of exceptions to these rules, but they help determine who gravitates to which side, which only increases the problem: anarchists get the artists and tacticians, Marxists get the theorists and politicians. 

… In a room where everyone agrees that the governmental line that extends from 1776 ought to be severed, who circles the A’s on their notebooks and who doesn’t is an internal debate.

Featuring the work of over 300 artists, Bartkira is a page-for-page, frame-for-frame transposition of Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic manga Akira from Neo-Tokyo to Springfield.

Chicken Treat’s #chickentweet marketing campaign — in which they coax a chicken into pecking and stepping on a keyboard connected to Twitter — calls to mind the University of Plymouth’s experiment to see whether a group of macaques would in fact reproduce classic plays by random chance. According to the BBC:

The six monkeys – Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan – produced five pages of text which consisted mainly of the letter “s”.

But towards the end of the experiment, their output slightly improved, with the letters A, J, L and M also appearing.

However, they failed to come up with anything that remotely resembled a word.

The monkeys’ work was published as Notes Towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

It also reminds me of the wild monkey (again a macaque) who took a selfie. Legal experts say he can’t own the copyright — but neither can the owner of the camera. So feel free to plagiarise those chicken tweets.

Yesterday was International Podcast Day, apparently, which reminded me I’d been meaning to post some recommendations. My education has been very anglocentric, and this year I’m trying to improve my understanding of Asian history, culture and politics. Having visited Japan a couple of times, that’s my point of entry:

  • Tokyo on Fire: This is an excellent weekly discussion of Japanese politics, which I particularly like because they provide the historical context necessary to understand the contours of contemporary debate. The panelists are American centrists (economically dry, socially liberal, and slightly hawkish) but they fairly present a range of viewpoints. It’s worth digging in to their old episodes.
  • Japan in Focus: This weekly show from Radio National features interviews with Japanese experts on current political issues, but also covers social trends and lighter news. It has an Australian perspective, which is nice.
  • NHK World Radio Japan: Brief daily news updates from Japan’s national broadcaster, in English. I tend to listen to this when one of the other podcasts flags a current issue that I want to follow — such as the protests by SEALDs against Abe’s unconstitutional war bills.
  • Asia News Weekly: This has a broader focus on southeast Asian news, with a focus on human rights and conflict. The host is a South Korea-based American with unsubtle opinions, but he does present multiple perspectives before declaring his own is correct.

A lot could be said about Dyson Heydon’s decision to endorse himself as a royal commissioner (Ben Eltham has made a good start here) but for me, this one point is enough:

Take a look at this invitation. Heydon decided that a fair-minded observer would conclude it was not an invitation to a Liberal Party event.

A brilliant legal mind, they say.

Mr Micallef: What is the difference between you and a bucket of shit?

The SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member has used an unparliamentary expression. I ask him to withdraw.

Mr MICALLEF (Springvale): I withdraw ‘bucket’.

Strong Language, “a sweary blog about swearing”, has kicked off a series of posts about “unparliamentary language” in the Westminster system with a selection of examples from Australia.

Photos of stairs from my April holiday.

I’m a lifelong fan of role-playing games, but I rarely play them. Dungeons & Dragons. Call of Cthulhu. Vampire: The Masquerade. Cyberpunk 2013. Traveller. I’ve been enchanted by the words and illustrations, and drawn into the imaginary worlds of as many RPGs as novels. So I’m always surprised, and a little dismayed, when RPGs are left out of the popular discussion about books and reading.

Like Damien Walter, I read far more RPGs than I play. One of my favourites, The Burning Wheel, is published as a beautiful digest-size book, more like a novel than the usual giant RPG manual. Flipping back and forth between the lifepath tables, different characters and settings emerge every time. Last week, Adam Koebel presented a lecture on why he loves the game.

Recently, virtual tabletop Roll20 hired Koebel (one of the designers of Dungeon World) as its Games Master, to stream demonstration games online. They have just launched a weekly Burning Wheel game. While I don’t have hours to sit and watch talking heads on YouTube, I do like to listen to “actual play” RPG podcasts on the tram — so I created one for the Roll20 Burning Wheel game. Enjoy.

Really enjoying Capitals at the moment. It takes the basic mechanic of Letterpress but adds a little bit of strategy to it. (The free version time-limits how many games you can start — which stops it swallowing your entire life.)

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett tweeted:

Judicial disclaimer—
Everyone is presumed GUILTY until I’ve had my first piece of bacon.

He was joking (I hope!) but there may be some truth to it. An Israeli study showed that after breakfast and lunch, judges are more likely to make parole decisions favourable to offenders.

Capitalism:

Many of the people who visit me in my therapy practice spend time talking about work. How much work there is, how they never seem to be able to get it all done, how many hours they spend at work, how tired they are all the time and how fearful they are about losing their jobs. …

We’re working longer hours than ever before, and as our employment conditions continue to worsen, they’re simply repackaged into a new version of normal in an effort to make the truly pathological state of many of our workplaces appear acceptable. …

In the last month or so I’ve had several clients raise the issue of overwork with their managers, with the following results. One had a consultant brought in to assess her team’s workloads against their position descriptions. Each member was found to be working at between 130 and 160% of their load. So the load was reset and anyone working at below 150% was told they weren’t pulling their weight.

The solution? “Nothing can alleviate the stress of overwork except working less.”

Japan’s culture of using cuddly mascots to represent organisations has been criticised as “a waste of public funds” by the Finance Ministry, which “order[ed] authorities nationwide to cut back on the use of life-size yuru-kyara“. But in Rumoi, Hokkaido, they decided not to kill off their beloved mascots; instead, their eight crappy characters (one for every 6500 residents) will form into a giant, crappy municipal Voltron:

Ororon Robo Mebius, a hybrid that resembles [a] gigantic humanoid robot … has legs, arms, a face and a body that all came from different yuru-kyara representing different communities.

“We have concluded that it’s better to join forces rather than each of the mascots working individually,” said Rumoi official Mayuko Miyaji.

And to prove their commitment to the Finace Ministry’s cost-cutting effort, Rumoi commissioned this animated Ororon Robo Mebius combination sequence. I assume the enemies it destroys represent soulless econocrats.

Slaving away: The dirty secrets behind Australia’s fresh food was an excellent report on 4 Corners last night, exposing the daily reality of work for Australia’s underclass:

A Four Corners investigation has uncovered gangs of black market workers run by unscrupulous labour hire contractors operating on farms and in factories around the country. …

These labour hire contractors prey upon highly vulnerable young foreigners, many with very limited English, who have come to Australia with dreams of working in a fair country.

They’re subjected to brutal working hours, degrading living conditions and the massive underpayment of wages.

In summary:

The program heard some Baiada workers are on the job for 18 hours per day, seven days a week and are exhausted.

Two workers first employed by Baiada earned the $25 an hour award wage, but were then switched to a labour hire company operating within the factory which paid $18.

The program cited wages as low as $13 an hour at another plant.

Staff working for a Baiada labour hire sub-contractor said two workers were abused.

This sounds very familiar… Here’s David Whyte describing a NUW strike at Baiada Poultry in 2011:

On a number of visits to the picket line, I listened to numerous horror stories of workers who worked in brutal conditions and risked their lives for as little as $8 an hour.

Their union, the National Union of Workers, estimated that at any one time, at least 10 per cent of staff were absent due to work-related injury. …

Workers said when their colleague was killed in the [Baiada] chicken packing machine, they had to remove his remains from the machine, hose it down and start up production again within two hours. …

Those on the picket line spoke of constant bullying, assaults and sexual harassment by immediate superiors in the plant.

Back then, Miranda Devine called unions “evil” for campaigning against this kind of exploitation:

This is the ugly face of the increasingly militant union movement. … [C]ashed-up unions are flexing their muscles, knowing they have a short window of opportunity to entrench power before the Labor government is thrown out.

… [T]he union’s main complaint is that the company employs contract workers, which means more than half of the workforce does not belong to the union. …

Indeed, the use of labour hire contractors as a shield was a big part of the dispute — as it was again in 2014, when similar allegations arose around Baiada:

“The reasons companies engage temporary international workers through indirect employment is that they can walk away from their legal responsibilities for paying workers compensation insurance, superannuation, public liability and minimum rates of pay,” Mr Courtney [of the AMIEU] said.

A 23-year-old woman from Hong Kong who worked at the Baiada chicken processing plant in Beresfield for more than six months said she was paid $11.50 an hour and shared a house with 30 people.

Fortunately, this time around there is a conservative who is prepared to speak up for the exploited workers — Nationals MP Keith Pitt:

In my electorate of Hinkler, it is a widely known fact that labour contractors, who act as middle men in the horticulture sector, are exploiting workers and local growers. To a small extent, the problem has always existed. But it has escalated in recent years.

And he has a plan:

Federal Nationals MP, Keith Pitt, has been calling on his government to fund a special undercover team to end the worker exploitation.

Good idea — after all, that’s how 4 Corners got its evidence:

Reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna has obtained undercover footage and on-camera accounts of this dark world.

Fortunately, our legal system protects whistleblowers who obtain secret evidence of modern slavery… right? Not so much, no.

Sam Roberts, secretary of the NUW’s general branch (which covers Queensland, WA, SA and Tasmania) had his permit suspended for six months in August 2011, after [Fair Work Commission] Senior Deputy President Matthew O’Callaghan found he was “ultimately responsible” for the decision to secretly film Baiada’s workplace, publish the video on the union’s website and provide it to the ABC for broadcast.

Senior Deputy President O’Callaghan made an earlier decision in which he found Roberts and two of his officials had misused their entry rights (see Related Article) at the company’s Wingfield site in South Australia.

So surely Keith Pitt would support strengthening unions’ ability to do this important inspection work? Again, not so much.

Keith Pitt voted very strongly against increasing trade unions’ powers in the workplace

We all know these greedy unions will drive honest businesses into administration. Miranda Devine again:

Ken Phillips, executive director of Independent Contractors Australia, doesn’t think Baiada will survive this. … He says unions carefully focus their resources, targeting companies that are financially vulnerable, and around which they can build a good story for maximum public sympathy.

They don’t care if the business goes bankrupt in the process.

Won’t somebody think of the poor, exploited bosses?

Victoria’s Agriculture Minister, Peter Walsh, condemned the strike, saying the picketers were “putting animal welfare at risk” and “causing hip pocket pain for growers”.

But what happens when one of these exploitative bosses goes broke? Don’t worry, they’ve thought of that.

Staff at a labour hire company that short-changed chicken processing workers and forced them to live in overcrowded share accommodation are allegedly operating the same business under a different name after going into liquidation and escaping claims for more than $434,000 …  in back payments for work at the Baiada chicken processing plant near Newcastle.

Mr Courtney [of the AMIEU] said Pham Poultry had escaped paying its debts by going into liquidation. He said staff associated with the company had registered another business called NTD Poultry which is providing a similar labour hire service to the Baiada plant in Beresfield. …

Mr Courtney said he was chasing $1.26 million in underpayments, owed to 150 overseas workers, from four labour hire companies.

He said companies including Baiada, one of the largest chicken producers in Australia, were using labour-hire companies to keep costs competitive.

Well, you can’t blame them for competing. After all, as Phillips explained, they are “financially vulnerable”. On the brink of bankruptcy. Aren’t they?

BRW Rich Families List 2014

24. Baiada family

$523 MILLION, LAST YEAR $490 MILLION, (23), RURAL (POULTRY). SYDNEY

The Baiada family have made their fortune in poultry farming, with Baiada Poultry turning over about $1.3 billion revenue in 2013. The firm employs about 2200 people and is a major supplier to Coles, Woolworths and KFC.

But remember: these millionaires are the real victims, while the workers and their unions are the “evil” ones.

Wait until she discovers kkkk

A blind lawyer using echolocation to break out of captivity and escape an autocratic country? No, it’s not Daredevil escaping from Doctor Doom’s Latveria, it’s political dissident Chen Guagncheng escaping from house arrest in China.

Now Chen Guangcheng, popularly known as the “Barefoot Lawyer”, has revealed that he escaped using a “bat-like echolocation” technique to navigate his way more than a mile to a neighbouring village and the safety of a friend’s home.

“I drew on an old skill I had developed when I was three or four years old, a kind of bat-like echolocation,” he writes in his new memoir, ‘The Barefoot Lawyer’, which is published this week.

“By making just the slightest ‘shhhh’ sound, no louder than a light wind in a pine tree, I could determine from the returning sound waves what was in front of me, whether large object or wall, forest or field.

“I hissed under my breath and listened carefully to the patter of the raindrops for clues about what surfaces were ahead of and around me.”

Here’s a map of his escape route.

Japan says brie is not cheese:

Australia’s dairy exports to Japan are chiefly cheese, including fresh mozzarella blended there with cheese from Japan’s declining dairy industry, mainly for the pizza market.

Beyond that, the industry faces the immense obstacles of the Knife Test and the Stand-Up Test. The first requires cheese seeking to be imported by Japan, to be cut with a sharp knife.

If any cheese sticks to the blade, it is ruled not to be cheese, and cannot gain entry. This rules out almost all soft cheeses.

The Stand-Up Test provides a further, almost insurmountable, barrier to such cheeses. A sample is left at room temperature for 24 hours. If it changes shape in any way — as, for instance, ripe brie will do — then again it is barred.

The meme journalists at BuzzFeed reckon Bill Shorten “cannot shake off” this gif I made. It is now (checks notes) “a classic meme”.

The Andrews Government has issued new intellectual property guidelines for the public service, which recommend the use of Creative Commons licensing and require that “[t]he State grants rights to its intellectual property with the fewest possible restrictions.” The litmus test, as far as I’m concerned, is whether public transport timetables and journey planning find their way into Google Maps, and apparently that’s coming in March.

In the prologue to this week’s episode of This American Life, two men laughed about this story:

Ira Glass: As Miles points out, this story that she has made up, it really makes no sense at all. OK, she’s got a sociopath boyfriend —

Miles: — who had beat up his girlfriend over the very nerdy error of buying a video camera that wasn’t under warranty.

Ira Glass: *laughs*

Miles: *laughs* It wasn’t like he was drunk, and he found her cheating on him, or anything. He was like, he’s violent enough to beat somebody up. But only if they buy a video camera that we don’t have a warranty for? Because god forbid, something should happen, and this camera breaks down. We can’t get our money back. We can’t get it repaired. You know what’s going to happen. It’s like, what?

But that’s exactly what many violent relationships are like. The violence doesn’t only come in response to wrongdoing by the victim. It is completely arbitrary. A broken camera is exactly the kind of excuse some violent men will use to justify their behaviour, and their victims live in fear of any tiny transgression, real or imagined, that might spark another attack.

It annoys me that two intelligent men would have so little understanding of this endemic problem that they can *laugh* about how implausible it is.

US lawyer and anti-death penalty campaigner Bryan Stevenson:

A lot of support for the death penalty comes from a place of great distance from the true details of killing another human being.

If you ask people, how many of you support raping people who rape, you would find it very hard to find anyone that would support that. …

The reason why we would be hesitant to endorse it is that – what normal person would be paid to do something so compromising as raping a human being? But yet we have this idea that we can kill someone in a way that doesn’t implicate us. If it’s not right to torture someone for torture, abuse someone for abuse, rape someone for rape, then how can we think we can kill someone for killing? …

The firing squad – they go out of their way that not all the guns have real bullets, so that the marksmen can walk away thinking, I didn’t do it. But there’s still this dead body on the ground. If we feel the need to actually protect the moral misgivings of the people participating, then there is no greater evidence of what we are doing is wrong.

David Tran, a Vietnamese refugee who built the pepper empire from nothing, never trademarked the term, opening the door for others to develop their own sauce or seasoning and call it Sriracha. … Tran… doesn’t see his failure to secure a trademark as a missed opportunity. He says it’s free advertising for a company that’s never had a marketing budget. It’s unclear whether he’s losing out: Sales of the original Sriracha have grown from $60 million to $80 million in the last two years alone. … At the same time, Tran has signed licensing agreements with a handful of specialty producers such as … Pop Gourmet, which makes a Sriracha popcorn… Even with these partnerships, Tran doesn’t charge any royalty fees. All he asks is that they use his sauce and stay true to its flavor.

I like David Tran and his delicious rooster condiment.

>> Hello, how are you?

> I’m fine. How are you?

I’m also fine.

An email thread, or a 5th century manuscript by Rufinus of Aquileia? From Keith Houston’s fascinating history of quotation marks. (Spoiler: the inverted comma appears in the 16th century.)

This week’s episode of NPR’s new Invisibilia podcast is called How To Become Batman, but a better superhero analogy would be Daredevil — like the show’s subject, Daniel Kish, and unlike Batman, he is blind and uses echolocation to see. But the show isn’t really about echolocation, it’s about the devastating impact of low expectations. It should be compulsory listening for teachers.

Atomic Robo (one of my favourite comic books) is moving to a webcomic model, funded through Patreon, with everything published free online before being collected in print. The entire first volume is already available, and new pages will be added three days a week.

Oxfam predicts that this year, 1% of the world’s population will own 50% of its wealth. But what does that look like?

If you want a picture of the global 1%, a bien-pensant 50-something in a house in north London might be more accurate than a billionaire hedge fund manager.